Android and the war: Developing Android apps in Ukraine in 2022
Material You and Android 12L and 13’s big-screen focused changes are all the rage right now, but so far, we have mostly looked at it from a consumer perspective. We covered how Google apps are switching to new interfaces, which third-party apps follow suit, and how well the theme is implemented across the board. But how do these changes affect developers, and does Google even give them the right tools to bring their projects up to snuff?
Up-and-coming Ukrainian indie app developer Pavlo Rekun sat down with Android Police to talk about updating his apps with Material You and tablet-focused optimizations, as well as the situation in his country and how it affects not only his work and life.
Pavlo Rekun has been an indie developer since 2015 and focuses on, as he says, "really useful ad-free and scum-free apps" for Android. He recently updated his app manager Skit to version 3.0 in the midst of the Russian attack, complete with Material You elements and tablet-focused optimizations. Now, he has the rest of his lineup left in the pipeline, consisting of subscriptions manager Tilla, system info app Castro, and EXIF editor Graphie.
Android Police: We usually cover Material You from a consumer-perspective, focusing on how it changes the look and feel of apps for phone users. But for you as an Android developer, what was or is the biggest challenge with Material You?
Pavlo Rekun: Well, the biggest challenge with Material You for me—and I guess for many other developers (looking at the list of open issues on the GitHub Material Components repository)—is the way how Google "announces" things and how it implements them. Let’s say, Material You was announced a year ago, but Material Components (the development kit which holds all UI components for Material 2 and now for Material You) were released only half a year ago, allowing indie devs to start adapting UI.
This is the main problem — many UI components are being shown in and used by Google apps, but those components are coming into the development kit with some big delay, which means some developers have to just wait (like I did it), or start creating their own components based on guidelines.
The other problem here, that currently, Google is trying to promote Jetpack Compose (a new framework for building adaptive UI) and most new UI components come to it at first, and only after a few months they become available for generic XML interface builders. At least there are not so many differences as there were when updating original Material to Material 2, just some theme and components updates, and the base interface is ready.
Yeah, tools are coming with much delay, so I guess it was the main problem for them, all of the Google apps already got their UI to revamp, but third-party apps are just starting to adopt Material You, but I guess the process will go faster now when most of the tools are ready now (only sliders and bottom navigation bar are still missing).
It is a beautiful tool and I don’t see any problems with it as a development kit, but the main issue is that Google puts its focus on it, leaving generic tools (XML) behind. This means new development tools come first to Jetpack Compose, and only with some delay to the older framework. So if you are already using Jetpack Compose, everything is cool for you, but if you haven’t adapted it yet, then you may face some problems with new tools coming later.
That makes sense. Probably a lot of bigger studios are slow at transitioning, so we might just have to wait quite a while for design updates from big apps. To get back to Material You, though, do you think the new design language is a good idea at all from a UX and interface design perspective?
Well, I couldn’t say I am a big fan of the current Material You implementation, since the spectrum of colors that are extracted from the wallpapers is limited to 10 colors or so — something which is much improved in Android 13 already. But I guess it is just not enough to become a "personal" design framework, because now all of the apps look very similar, colors are the same, and components are the same.
That is actually why I have created a set of hand-crafted themes in the new Skit update, to allow users to set the color of the UI without tying it to Dynamic Colors or the default app’s theme. The main idea for this feature is directed at people on older Android versions, though, to mock Dynamic Colors for older devices.
I could bet that in the next releases, Google will add some ways to change the shapes of components, and maybe make specific changes for specific groups of apps. As for the UX, I don’t see any big changes coming from Material 2, maybe components just became bigger.
Could you imagine how Material You will evolve over the next few years? You already mentioned Android 13, but would you like to elaborate on these specific changes for groups of apps you mentioned?
Google Drive is a cloud storage solution available on Android where all new users get 15GB for free permanently upon signing up. You can, of course, buy more if needed. What makes Google Drive so special is the suite of Android apps that are attached to it. They include Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides, Google Photos, Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Keep. It just covers so many bases and it’s so cheap that it’s impossible not to recommend it to just about anybody.
Some of the features of these apps include live collaboration, deep sharing features, and compatibility with Microsoft Office documents. It’s easy to use, you get 15GB of free storage for your documents, and the cross-platform support is pretty good. You can find more cloud storage apps here and more office apps here if you want something different.
Google Maps and Waze
Google Maps virtually owns the navigation apps scene and it remains of the best Android apps ever. It gets frequent, almost weekly updates that seem to only add to its incredibly generous list of existing features. Aside from the very basics, Google Maps gives you access to places of interest, traffic data, directions to things like rest stops or gas stations, and you can download maps for offline use.
If you add to that the Waze experience, which includes tons of its own features, and you won’t need another navigation app. Ever. Google also owns and operates Waze so we list them together. Both navigation apps work on Android Auto and usually, they work better than car navigation systems. Of course, we have more GPS apps options as well here if you need them.
When the Pixel 4 debuted in 2019, one of the best things to come with it was Google’s Recorder app. Recorder not only filled one of the big missing gaps on Pixel phones — which previously didn’t feature a built-in voice recorder — but did it in style. Recorder could transcribe your recordings in real-time, even as you were speaking. And all that transcription work was done locally, without sharing your recordings to the cloud.
Recorder was so good, Google hasn’t restricted it to just the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. The app is available to all Pixel phones, and updates have added editing features introduced with the Pixel 5. Even if you carry around a different Android phone in your pocket, there’s a workaround to install Recorder on your Android device. You’ll need to be running either Android 9 or Android 10, and some features may not be supported on all phones, but it’s still a great way to experience one of the best free Android apps we’ve ever seen.
Moment – Pro Camera
A truly great camera app arguably needs to both avoid clutter and be packed full of manual controls, so you can capture an image exactly as you want it, but that’s a tough balance to strike, and few manage. Moment – Pro Camera (opens in new tab) arguably does though.
It gives you full manual control, including RAW shooting, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, exposure compensation and focus. There’s also tap to focus, a timer, a grid and several different lenses. It’s an impressive toolkit, with the app focusing more on powerful utilities than gimmicky filters, but it all has a very clean, minimalist look.
The main downside of this Android app is that it can’t currently shoot videos, but for photos there’s a good chance you’ll want to replace your current camera app with this, and video is apparently in the works.
LightX Photo Editor
You can merge photos, add effects and filters, selectively apply colors to regions of an image, adjust the color balance, smooth and sharpen images, crop them, rotate them, draw on them, add frames and stickers, add text, create collages and a whole lot more.
That’s all handled through the Android app’s intuitive interface; bring up the main menu with a tap, select the category of edits you want to make (filters or frames, for example) and you’ll be taken to a menu with all the relevant options.
Most of it is fairly self-explanatory, but there are also tutorial videos for if you get stuck, and for a one-off $3.69/£3.49 IAP you can get rid of adverts, unlock additional stickers and frames, and add the ability to save images in PNG format.